baking with angie

A few years ago, I worked at an apartment complex, and the very first person I ever showed an apartment to was a single mother.  Her adorable young son was with her, and I loved that she treated him like a grown up person, asking for his thoughts, and if he felt that the rooms they were exploring could be home.  He was a little over three years old when I met him, and still qualifies as the cutest kid I’ve ever seen.

I didn’t work for the apartment complex for long ~ the call of the restaurant industry lured me back, and I left my mind-numbingly boring desk job behind to go back to the intensity of food service.  But for the time I worked there (and lived on site) that single mother and her son were my next door neighbors.

Today, his school picture is on my fridge, and even though we only live about twenty minutes apart, we don’t see each other often.  Earlier this week, I received an unexpected text message and the heads up that there would be an imminent delivery of banana chocolate chip muffins.

I have to tell you, no one bakes like Angie.  No one.  I mean, her cookies and brownies are like crack, but those banana chocolate chip muffins … nothing has ever come close to winning my affections away. They are sublime.

While Angie was delivering said muffins last Tuesday, I told her about my humbling attempt to make homemade brownies.  She immediately nodded and said, “Yeah, brownies are tricky.”  (PS.  Did everyone know this, and I’m just late to the party?  Or is it because I’ve only ever made box brownies?  Either way … I was not aware that brownies were such a finicky baked good to produce!)

So we tentatively made a baking-day date.  And that day was today.

Ange had the terrific idea of making sangria, so the first thing we did when she arrived was make a nice batch of fruit-filled wine.  Her recipe (it was delish!) ~

1 bottle red wine (we used what I had ~ Pinot Noir)

1/2 cup Alize

1/4 cup Blue Agave syrup

1 cup Club Soda

1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice (** I don’t have a juicer, so Angie just squeezed one full, large orange into the concoction)

1 medium sliced orange

2 sliced lemons

1 peach, cored & diced

The remnants of my Sangria

While we sipped our Sangria, we had ‘Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone’ on in the background (blasphemy of all blasphemies, Angie had never seen one or read a single HP book! Eegads!)

Because she’s a baking goddess, Angie brought her recipe books for me to thumb through. She asked if I wanted to make cookies or brownies.

“Both?” I replied sheepishly.  She smiled as if to say, “Of course you do.”

We made cookies first.  Having never actually made chocolate chip cookies before, I kind of stood awkwardly to the side as Angie began confidently dumping ingredients here and there, chatting the whole time.  She’d also assumed that I had no ingredients at my house (a correct assumption by someone who hasn’t really spent a ton of time with me since 2007 when I could barely scramble eggs).  I surprised her by being more than a little prepared.  What we used:

*** We cut the recipe in half, because really, does a person home alone missing her man need 6-7 dozen cookies?  No, I didn’t think so!

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 egg

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

What to do:

1.  Sift together flour, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.

2.  Cream together butter, sugars (brown & white!) and vanilla extract until light.  Add egg.  Mix ’til well-blended.  Add sifted ingredients and mix until well combined.

3.  Fold in chocolate chips. 

4.  Roll into tablespoon-sized balls, and place on well greased cookie tray.  Three across, four down.  

5.  Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes, or until lightly browned.  Let stand for one minute on cookie sheet, and then place onto cooling racks.  ** Don’t forget, if they look almost done, and you like your cookies chewy, remember that once you pull them out, they’ll keep cooking for a little bit!  I learned this the hard way with my first batch of brownies last week.

Yummers.

On a roll, we moved to brownies next.  Couple pearls of wisdom Angie shared as we assembled ingredients.

1.  If the recipe says softened butter, that’s what it means.  The same goes for melted butter, etc.  There is a reason that the recipe calls for butter a certain way.  Respect it.  Your brownies will thank you.

2.  When making the finicky brownies, don’t over mix.  Just stir the ingredients until they are combined, and then leave them alone.  Over-mixing is not a good thing.

Once I had noted these very important rules, we commenced the making of brownies.

What we used:

1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup butter, melted
2 Tbsp water
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup semi sweet chocolate morsels
Sifted powdered sugar

What to do:

1.  Stir together granulated sugar, melted butter & water in a bowl.  Stir in eggs and vanilla.  

2.  Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.  Once combined, stir into sugar & butter mixture.  *** Remember!! Only stir til it’s combined!!! No more than necessary! 

3.  Stir in chocolate morsels.

4.  Pour into greased 13 x 9 pan (I never thought that the size of the pan mattered much … fyi peeps, it totally does!).  

5.  Bake at 350 for 18-25 minutes.  (My easy-bake oven isn’t calibrated properly, so it was an exercise in patience on Angie’s part but the 18-25 minutes is the time quoted in the recipe we used).

 

Enjoy with a big ole glass of milk!

We also had Plum, Asiago & Pesto sandwiches on sun-dried tomato bread.  It was a deliciously satisfying day.
And yes, that’s a Steelers pint glass.  It’s almost football season, peeps!!

The nectar of the gods

April 2010

Lost Night @ The Farm

i.  Santa Christina Sangiovese

13%

Notes/Comments: “Fresh, fragrant & fruity.”  A favorite of my dad’s, and ranked Best Wine for Best Value.  Delish, spicy & fruity.

Grade: A- (it is only 13%)

ii. Peirano Estate Vineyards; Barbera

2004 Lodi

13.8%

Notes/Comments: Strong nose (cheesy), deep flavor, well balanced, round, robust, chocolate undertones.

Grade: B+

iii. Santana Torrontes

2008 Mendoza, Argentina

13.5%

Notes/Comments: Citrus & nectarine notes … hint of creaminess.  Crisp apple flavors & nose, citrus-y with just a bit of a bite ~ very drinkable.

Jess Quote: Best white wine she’d tried in a long time!

Grade: B+/A-

Date Night

i.  Marraso Cabernet Sauvignon

2007 Argentina

14.2%

Comments/Notes: Strong, pungent flavor and nose.  Very drinkable. Better when first opened ~ not after being open for a few days.

Grade: B-

Lost Night @ The Farm

i. Artesa Cabernet Sauvignon

2005 (65% Napa, 35% Sonoma)

14.2%

Comments/Notes: Full, fruity, heavy delicious Cabernet.

Grade: B

ii.  Redemption Zinfandel

2006 Dry Creek Valley

14.5%

Comments/Notes: Sumptuous blackberry, blueberry & spice rack qualities.  Bold & flavorful ~ definitely zesty!

Grade: B

iii.  Trivento Reserve Malbec

2008 Argentina

13.5%

Comments/Notes: Plum and raspberry jam aromas mingle elegantly with vanilla notes … aged six months in French oak barrels.

Grade: B-

Be Fri/ St Ends

I guess the theme of this week in my life is friendship.

On Monday, I had dinner with a friend whom I hadn’t seen in 15 years.  It was fabulous.  We talked about school back in the day, we talked about college, we talked about life now.  We laughed.  A lot.  And you can’t ask for much more than that.  It was fabulous.

On Tuesday, an old neighbor stopped by, and over simply orgasmic banana chocolate chip muffins (hers are by far the best thing I’ve ever had) and glasses of milk, we caught up on life, talked about careers ~ remembered some fun times.  It was such a comforting thing, to sit in practically-pjs and just shoot the breeze.  I ate my salmon and corn & tomato salad (courtesy of my mama bear & aunt) and felt a-okay about life.

Yesterday I had a little dinner party, enjoying good conversation with my neighbors and Jeff (he who inhabited our apartment before we took residence).  Jeff and I sat under the trees late into the evening, sipping our wine and talking about life and cooking and food.  (It was Green Curry Redux, and I promise to put up my amendments, because it was, in my opinion, significantly improved).

Today subbed for WeHangsDay (J & J have a very active social calendar!) and we ate meals straight from my favorite food blog, Iowa Girl Eats.  I mean seriously, tell me one person who reads a recipe for Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries and doesn’t want to make them immediately?  Or a plum, pesto & fontina panini?  Sometimes, I think my blog should be called “What Iowa Girl Eats made yesterday that I totally had to have and it overruled any creativity on my part.”  But that’s on days when I’m a little sad, and a lot exhausted, and feel a little overwhelmed.  Days like today.

The nice thing about all these friends – and all this breaking of bread- is that I really hate it when the man is gone, and it’s been nice to have people to spend time with at the end of the day.  Because after a rough day, having someone to talk to is the best medicine.

All this makes me really appreciate my bestest friend, my wonderful man, and how no one quite understands me the way he does.  Here’s to hoping he’s home soon.

 

don’t hate the toosday

Ok.  So it’s been a long week and half for me, what with my work situation being so cray cray crazy, and I haven’t cooked much of anything, because by the time I got home, I felt like a limp dishrag and all I wanted to do was curl up into my bed and sleep (which we all know from my previous post, seemed to elude me).

Tonight, I decided that I was going to make myself a nice little dinner to enjoy while reading more of my book (or watching my DVR’d episode of The Bachelorette:) ).  I decided that my craving for salmon was too overpowering to deny it, so I hit up the grocery store on my way home.

As I’ve never actually gone to a deli counter or butcher counter and gotten food for only one person, I was completely taken aback by the disdain of the grocery store clerk who managed to pull himself away from his highly trafficked deli counter area to assist lonely little me standing forlornly in front of the seafood display, looking around helplessly (or, as we restaurant folk sometimes say, rubber-necking).  Listen, I tried to look nonchalant, but when he clearly saw I was waiting and not just perusing, and after he’d assisted his only customer with everything the man could possibly need, was it necessary to make me feel as though he was doing me some huge favor of God to come put a salmon filet in a bag and slap a sticker on it?  Seriously.

Whew.  I know, I know, I should be trying to be a better person, and not dwell on the negative or that which I have no control over.  But I went in there with a smile; I asked politely.  I cannot imagine that it was a huge inconvenience to him to walk another ten feet to a different counter, but I may be wrong.  He could have a seafood phobia, a fish allergy, a general dislike of anything that breaths with gills.  I don’t know these things.  I can only hypothesize.

Either way, I am now in possession of a beautiful little piece of salmon that I have every intention of enjoying as soon as it’s done cooking.  Bon appetite to everyone out there, cooking for one!

 

mr. sandman

I woke up this morning feeling more rested than I have in quite some time.  It’s been a long week for me folks, and while the majority of the things going on are good, I have gotten significantly less sleep than I would have liked. 

I am not the kind of person who can be peppy in the morning following three hasty hours of sleep.  I am not doing jumping jacks with a wide grin while sipping coffee (I can’t actually drink coffee, which may be the problem). 

I need sleep.  Like, minimum seven solid hours of zzzzz’s.  And last night, for the first time since last Sunday, I accomplished the mission.  For everyone who has to deal with me on a regular basis, you may now heave a huge sigh of relief! 

Why have I not been sleeping, you ask?  I’m not sure, say I.  But I believe it’s a combination of anxiety about work (in a very good way, which is awesome! but it’s anxiety nonetheless), having late night Skype conversations with the man (who is 2 hours behind East Coast time, and enjoying quite the social life down in the tropics) and restlessness of being alone in my house.

See, the thing is, a few years ago, I had a really traumatizing experience, and the sandman has been much more elusive ever since.  It’s one thing to have a strong, solid man lying next to you and sleep peaceably.  It’s quite another to be all alone, in a very old house with quirky noises, and already be slightly on edge from previous nights’ lack of sleep.

My solution?

Head on down to Mama Bear and Dad’s house.  Last night I had the great fortune of enjoying a delicious summer meal prepared by my Mama Bear and lovely Aunty, as well as the company of some of their lovely friends. 

And yes, I forgot to take pictures.  I may have implied this previously, but I’ve been a tad bit on the sleepy side recently.  I can tell you that we had crabmeat on delicate leaves of perfect green lettuce, avocado salad, fresh tomatoes and tiny fresh mozzarella balls, and mango salsa.  I loaded it all on my plate, and savoured every little bite.

Following dinner, we enjoyed dessert, which included raspberries (need I say more?) and then an after dinner drink on the patio.  FYI, it was 95 degrees at 10pm.  No joke.

Finally, I retired to my room, and fell into blissful slumber (only interrupted by a good night call from the man which was short and sweet).  Ah, sleep.

I feel like a new woman!  I’m ready to take on the world … or the piles of work still sitting on my desk that needs to be done by tomorrow morning.  Either way, same difference, right?

Happy Sunday everyone ~ relax and stay cool!

chillaxin’

Happy Friday to everyone out there whose work week is over!

My advice? Stay cool while this heat wave keeps beating us up, and do something fun tonight to relax.

Me?  I’m sitting on my uber comfy couch, with my new Daniel Silva book “Portrait of a Spy,” my new issue of “Entertainment Weekly,” a glass of cool, delicious Chardonnay, some yummy munchies made for me by the best restaurant staff in the world (obviously I’m biased ~ and 100% correct!) and I plan on watching a super girlie movie while I have the luxury!

It’s a Friday night in, ladies and gentlemen, and I plan to savour every minute!  Savour yours as well!

Til tomorrow!

from rejection comes redemption

Ok.  So last night, as I pulled my tired personage off the couch at J & J’s and began mounting the stairs on the way to my departure, they casually said, “See you tomorrow!”

And I thought … “What?” (And uh oh … ???)

Turns out I’d committed myself to going to the Third Annual Pizza Olympics a few weeks ago, which was taking place the next night. Remembering this after some prompting, but feeling so utterly and absurdly tired, I mumbled that yeah, I was still in.  I mean, how does one say no to an event that gathers pizza makers from around the great city of Philadelphia, shoves them all into one room, and invites the general eating public to come and vote on their favorite slice?  You just don’t miss that … no matter how much more appealing your bed and sleep may seem at the time!

Fast forward to today ~ I met up with Josh at precisely 6pm, and together we drove down to the location (Penns Landing Caterers) to meet up with Jess (who was coming from the ‘burbs).  As we gathered at Rooney, the couple parked next to us were returning to their car.

“Do you have tickets?”  they asked.

“No,” we responded.

“Might as well get back in your car then.  They aren’t letting any more people in.”

Josh did a double take.  He’d made a call this morning to confirm that we could get tickets at the door.  He’d been waiting to attend this thing since hearing about it two years ago (following the First Annual Pizza Olympics).  The complete and utter devastation that was rumbling under his cool exterior was a sight to behold.  We walked to the front entrance.  The story was true.   And we’d been this close.

So … we did what anyone in our situation in South Philly would do.  We called Tacconellis and asked if they had any dough.  Upon receiving a favorable response, we got back into our vehicles and headed up Columbus Blvd for some of the foh-real, legit, best pizza in town.

It did not disappoint.  Which was lucky for us, but mostly for Josh, who was just not feeling so great about the massive letdown that had occured on the doorstep of the Third Annual Pizza Olympics.

Next year, we’re totally ordering our tickets online.  But for tonight, I’m satisfied to have a leftover slice of spinach, and a leftover slice of mushroom ‘za in the fridge to take for lunch tomorrow.

 

in honor of …

I am almost literally propping my eyelids open as I write this.  Who knew that fatigue existed to this unbearable extent?  Oh wait … I’m pretty sure doctors knew ….

Tonight I was treated to another dinner, a regular WeHangsDay evening, but J & J, with twinkles in their eyes, served dried and fried plantains, in honor of the man (and more specifically, where he is).

By the time I arrived (*ahem* fashionably late … or so I told myself as I raced to get there), I was ravenous.  (I know, I know, when am I not?  ”Excellent question”, says Mr. Burns).

I practically inhaled the dried plantains and tomato sauce (which I thought was salsa, but was pleasantly surprised to find it was better!), finished my burrito before either had eaten half, and then had more (yes, I know, but it was sooooo goooooood).

My delightful hosts ~ after the majority of my food was gone ~ casually asked if I took pictures of food I didn’t make.

Grrr.  Whoops.  I need more sleep!

Suffice it to say, simple is always classically perfect, and tonight, J & J served up scrumptious burrito fixins and I piled up grated cheese, garden fresh tomatoes, arugula, perfectly ripe avocado slices and juicy seasoned chicken cooked to utter perfection by Mr. J on a warm and gooey soft flour wrap …. and then housed it.  I mean, I devoured that thing as though if I stopped, it might run away or disappear.

Wish I’d savored its sweet perfection a little more ~ the flavors were so divine … not too much, not too little.  If I wasn’t stuffed to the brim (and beyond, to be honest) I’d probably be getting hungry again just thinking about it.

When my eyelids inevitably drop, I know I’ll dream about it.  It was too good not to.

And yes, I know I’m raving about a few simple ingredients wrapped together in a smorgasbord of taste in each bite … but it totally and completely hit the spot.

Yum.

PS.  Peeps, I have officially joined Twitter. (You heard it here first … unless you’re addicted to twitter and already knew … in which case, you heard it there first).   Yowza, it’s a complete inundation of soundbites and snapshots of information (in 160 characters or less, if you please) from … well … every person on the face of the planet, their dogs, chia pets, and stuffed monkeys.  Holy moly, I had no idea.  If you get the hankering, check me out @simplygwyn.  True story.

So, now that I’ve written a complete post in a state of nearly drunken fatigue, I think the only proper thing to do is get my sorry self into bed, and get some zzzzz’s.

Until tomorrow.  Buonanotte!

dinner for one

This is what I could have had for dinner … and very nearly did because by the time I rolled in (along with the wicked storm clouds) it was pretty late. 

This is what I did have for dinner, because the zucchini was taunting me from its perch.  So there I was, totally conflicted.  But … I made the fritters.  The recipe is from Josh and luckily, it was pretty simple.   I don’t think I could have done something uber complex.

What to use:

2 -3 small zucchini, coarsely grated (I grated two large slices of the Liechtenstein Zucchini)

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

2 eggs, beaten

2 garlic cloves, pressed (flying solo means totally enjoying garlic in epic quantities!!)

a bunch of chopped up herbs (I used basil cuz it’s what I had)

Salt & Pepper to taste

How to get it done:

Preheat oven to 400.

1.   Thoroughly squeeze grated zucchini until it’s as dry as possible.

2.  Beat eggs in bottom of large mixing bowl.

3.  Add squeezed zucchini and garlic to eggs.  Mix.

4.  Add bread crumbs, Parmesan, herbs, salt and pepper.  Mix gently until completely combined. 

5.  Form into patties.

6.  Place on cookie tray (I covered mine with aluminum foil and *forgot* to spray it with cooking spray.  Don’t forget!!)

7.  Bake for 10 minutes on one side, and ten on the other.  (I approximated this ~ just make sure that when you press on the fritters, they are firm).

Yum Yum delish.

PS.  Told you I could eat fresh corn every day!  Still not a corn on the cob … yet!

PPS. For anyone who was curious, Joel Grey’s daughter is Jennifer Grey, she of “Dirty Dancing” fame (and “Dancing with the Stars” Champion ~ but I forget the season!)

Nobody puts Baby in the corner.  :)